Alexandra – Ecdysis

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Alexandra Burress is a 21-year old singer / songwriter and producer from Portland, OR. Her latest album was recorded in the San Diego of her formative years, and finds her crafting a warm, tender, dreamlike suite of eight songs that gently wrap the listener in their gauzy, affecting textures.

These are pieces built from gentle, beatific fragility, their sparseness punctuated by subtle sounds – guitar, electronics, reverb, unplaceable instrumentation, field recordings – with each element given space to develop under Alexandra’s plangent, ruminative vocal. The standout track ‘Roller’ finds that vocal draped in transformative echoes while shimmering synth pads and a submerged, frantic, but never distracting processed rhythm propel the song relentlessly forward, concluding in a nest of whining, atonal sounds. ‘Membrane’ sees Alexandra’s vocal delivered as overlapping passages full of mystique and reflectiveness, accompanied by an inchoate, ever-shifting, dramatic bed of tiny sounds, scratchy micro-beats and emotion-manipulating glitches, mixed with naturalistic sounds.

The result is an album that is both deeply personal for its creator and yet universally shared: we have all transformed ourselves whether through circumstance or the decisions we make; we were all once children experiencing a world stretching out in front of us, making mistakes and finding ourselves as we go; we have all shed many skins, both physically and metaphorically. Ecdysis’s powerful and utterly captivating conceit is to focus you in on that which once was, who we are right now, and what we might yet become.

Ecdysis by Alexandra was released July 26 2019 by Spirit House Records.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Further.

Jah Wobble & Bill Laswell – Realm Of Spells

Bassists Bill Laswell and Jah Wobble both emerged from two vibrant post-punk scenes, Laswell in New York with Material and Wobble in London with Public Image Ltd. Both have spent the last forty odd years as deft collaborators, their playing threading effortlessly through everything from jazz to dub to electronica, while Laswell’s production nous has seen him involved in so many sessions that it’s generally hard to keep up with his discography.

Realm Of Spells is the pair’s first jointly-credited album since 2001’s Radioaxiom, a record that found Wobble sitting in alongside many players familiar from other Bill Laswell projects. Their new record evens things out slightly, with the whole project largely initiated by Wobble’s long-standing unit The Invaders Of The Heart (Marc Layton-Bennett, George King and Martin Chung), who provide the backbone of the nine tracks included here. Alongside The Invaders and the idiosyncratic bass approaches of Laswell and Wobble, the group were augmented by drummer / percussionist Hideo Yamaki and multi-instrumentalist Peter Apfelbaum, here playing sax on a number of stand-out pieces.

Though tracks like the serene, constantly-shifting electronically-enhanced dub of ‘Uncoiling’ link back to the sound of Radioaxiom, Realm Of Spells was directly influenced by Laswell and Wobble’s shared love of Miles Davis’s unparalleled electric period in the first half of the Seventies. You can hear that freedom of expression and borderless, flexible quality on tracks like ‘The Perfect Beat’ and the album’s nine-minute title track, melting pots of jazz, rock, electronics and funk with an unswerving, tight rhythm sections and cavernous basslines. ‘Dark Luminosity’ operates in similar territory, a snare-dominated groove and nagging low-end attacked by everything from delicate keyboard motifs to guitar lines that flip-flop between jazzy licks and prowling, angsty hooks, while the curt organ-led grooves of ‘At The Point Of Hustle’ sounds like Money Mark jamming with The Wailers.

Realm Of Spells by Bill Laswell and Jah Wobble is released on August 2 2019 by Jah Wobble Records. My interview with Laswell and Wobble will appear in the next issue of Electronic Sound.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Further.

Kepier Widow – Perspectives And Boundaries

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Kepier Widow is the alias of North Manchester’s Alexander Roberts. With releases over the last couple of years on labels like Rusted Tone and Panurus, Perspectives And Boundaries is perhaps his most ambitious project to date, consisting of four 30-minute pieces of audio art across two cassettes released by Chelmsford’s Misophonia imprint.

What’s immediately apparent from the opening moments of the Perspectives cassette is that this is a beautiful sprawl of a project, and by the conclusion of the final passages of Boundaries it’s clear that Roberts possesses a potentially limitless capacity for sonic adventuring. Ideas are spliced in, developed quickly and already in the past by the time you’ve got your head around them, whether moments of found sound or intricately detailed electronic music fragments or surreptitious recordings of overheard conversation placed jarringly out of context. Elsewhere, you pick up backward sounds and heavily-disguised vocals that, were it the Sixties or even a NON LP, would have had people claiming to be able to hear satanic orders and coded messages. And who knows? Maybe that’s what they are.

As I made my way though Roberts’ two-hour opus perhaps the most unexpected result was how I found myself thinking about my childhood. There’s a looped laugh at the start of the second part of Perspectives that took me back to a scratched LP of children’s songs wherein ‘The Laughing Policeman’ would cackle menacingly until you ran screaming from the room. Elsewhere, one of the muted electronic passages took on an atmospheric Eighties soundtrack vibe, immediately transporting me back to my pre-teen years glued to episodes of Airwolf.

Perspectives And Boundaries by Kepier Widow is out now on Misophonia.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Further.

Christopher Willits – Sunset

San Francisco ambient musician Christopher Willits’s precise instructions for listening to Sunset, his latest collection of five ephemeral pieces for his long term Ghostly label home, asks you to “Begin the music fifteen minutes before the sun sets.” The collection is designed to reflect the changing light and warmth of the end of the day, in so doing allowing a deep connection to form between the listener and her or his surroundings, concurrently creating a Zen-like spiritual appreciation of the moment.

I didn’t listen to this at sunset, nor was I particularly aware of my surroundings at the time: I first played this after a difficult June evening, in the early morning, on a train; the sun was hidden behind a screen of impenetrable rain clouds and its warmth was utterly absent. It was arguably the opposite of what Willits intended for his music, but it presented a sort of stillness and reassuring calm that felt necessary at that point.

That’s not to suggest that these pieces are devoid of colour and emotion. Amid long electronic tones, overlapping drones, and some heavily-processed and virtually unrecognisable guitars, moments of tension arise before quietly resolving themselves and moving on; subtle harmonic ebbs and flows give rise to unintentional melodies, while the woodland sounds of ‘Transpire’ transport you from the synthetic world to the real one. It is a collection of resolute, irrepressible beauty, and one that might just leave you feeling a little altered (for the better) after.

Sunset by Christopher Willits is released by Ghostly International on June 14 2019. The timing of this post’s publication coincided with the estimated time of sunset in the UK town where I live.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Further.

Plaid – Polymer

What separates the natural world from that of synthetic recreations? Is it not just all vibrating molecules arranged into rhythmic patterns? Polymer, a Greek derived word meaning ‘many parts’ and used to describe both natural and synthetic macromolecules composed of repeating patterns of monomer molecules, accurately describes Plaid’s latest release.

Similarly to the ages-long process of specific natural elements converging with each other to form sparkling jewels, Plaid have been synthetically honing their craft since 1991 – longer if you include Ed Handley and Andy Turner’s start with Black Dog Productions. The result has been a slow, subtle evolution of electronic aural alchemy sounding unlike any of their peers at Warp and beyond. Plaid have long been masters of crystalline, interlocking comb-filtered percussive FM synthesis forming almost euphoric (and sometimes melancholic) melodies, and Polymer has plenty of that.

Where Polymer stands apart from Plaid’s recent past releases is that it doesn’t feel just like a loose collection of tracks, but rather a tightly-bonded, cohesive yet diverse album informed by Ed and Andy’s manifesto for the project: “Polyphony, Pollution, and Politics”. Their many years of experimentation in the Plaid laboratory have enabled them the ability to create dazzlingly refined and complex tracks where everything melds perfectly while still pushing the boundaries of contemporary electronic music.

The opening ‘Meds Fade’ is something new from Plaid, a sci-fi, almost darkwave track which buzzes and drifts over alien landscapes sounding like the soundtrack Zaxxon never had. It feels like the chaotic and polluted external route one must take to get to the inner sanctum of the Polymer experience. Once there, we are greeted by the lab experiment that is ‘Los’, complete with cyclical machine percussion and bubbling 303 (a nod to this album having the prestigious Warp catalogue number 303, perhaps?). Later, ‘Ops’ combines a natural human vocal element to provide an effective rhythmic phrase punctuated by percussive syncopated vibrating plucks. One is constantly impressed with the spatial dimension Plaid is able to produce in their music and it is especially apparent on Polymer.

Further along the experience, ‘Drowned Sea’ – a dark, brooding Coil-like track with hauntingly subtle pitched and warped vocal samples – reminds us that with great modern advances oftentimes comes the failings of humankind’s ability to properly deal with the remains of their creations. Informing this particular track are the ever-present micro-plastics in the food chain and massive plastic tides. It is no wonder that plastic debris was recently found at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, which, at 11km, is deeper than the tallest mountain is high. On a more optimistic tone, albeit a deeply melancholic one, ‘Dancers’ lifts one up as only Plaid can do with their signature melodic chimes and ethereal pads floating over skittering fragile drums. With light there is dark and ‘Recall’ brings thing back around with the sounds of glitched and sputtering synths akin to malfunctioning lab equipment.

However synthetic the title Polymer hints at, and with Plaid’s music in general, they are no strangers to incorporating natural elements seamlessly, if not subtly, into their array. Polymer follows other plaid albums with the addition of guitar and other acoustic staccato sounds which can be found in the likes of ‘The Pale Moth’, ‘Nurula’, and ‘Crown Shy’, satisfying perhaps their long-standing threat of recording an entire album with nothing other than a slowly deconstructed guitar. Nothing in Plaid’s discography comes quite as close to the full-on acoustic mark, however, as Polymer’s closing track does. ‘Praze’ – an old word for meadow – is a strikingly enchanted mediaeval bard-esque strain that relates to Britain’s disappearing wildflower meadows. In ‘Praze’s final melancholy there is also hope, not unlike stepping into a field after the daunting journey which began with ‘Meds Fade’, travelling through Plaid’s polymerisation laboratory experience until finally closing on a sole harpsichord.

Polymer is a wonderful and emotionally diverse experience that manages to retain the playfulness of past releases such as Rest Proof Clockwork to the darkness of Greedy Baby. As the word implies, Polymer is a complete album made of many parts, made of songs of many parts, made of machines and instruments of many parts, and so on down to the realm of mere vibration. For even in the realm of electronics and their perceived artificial means of creation, a most natural experience can be created – one known as music.

Polymer by Plaid is out now on Warp.

Words: Bryan Michael. Bryan Michael is a founding member of Philadelphia electronics unit Alka. Listen to Alka’s The Colour Of Terrible Crystal at Spotify.

(c) 2019 Further.

Audio Obscura – Nineteen Eighty-Four

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The third cassette release in the Bibliotapes label’s pairing of iconic books to music finds Norwich’s adaptable electronic sound artist Audio Obscura (Neil Stringfellow) providing a soundtrack to George Orwell’s chillingly accurate Nineteen Eighty-Four, released to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the its publication.

To be clear, this is not an opportunity for Stringfellow to cover, or even offer an alternative to, the (controversial) soundtrack put together by Eurythmics for the movie released in the year that the book was set in; this is about interpreting the actual text through the medium of completely newly-imagined music, and, a bit like a media-controlled slogan in Nineteen Eighty-Four itself, for the purposes of this we should profusely deny the existence of said film.

What that means is that his accompaniment to the daily, mandatory ritual of venting and screaming in collective anger on ‘Two Minutes Hate’ is presented as a bleak, primal, dissonant noisefest set to a insistent post-industrial beat; the pieces soundtracking the scenes depicting Winston, the book’s protagonist, and his attempts to wilfully evade surveillance and the controlling hand of the Party are freighted with both a pastoral, naturalistic serenity and a sort of nagging tension, filled with mournful strings and birdsong; the scenes set inside Room 101 are laced with a nagging, slow-motion sense of foreboding (and the displaced voice of Frank Skinner).

In Stringfellow’s hands, the haunting familiarity of ‘Oranges And Lemons’ is presented twice, first as a shimmering, gauzy memory resplendent in childhood innocence, and later laced with harshly-processed impending operatically-voiced doom, a vestigial scrap of something that didn’t get fully processed in a memory hole.

Something about the way that Stringfellow has crafted these pieces seems to simultaneously remind us of the unflinching horror of daily life that Orwell predicted in his dystopian musings, while also presenting a sense of resignation and dismay that this is the world we currently occupy – and one that we have willingly submitted to.

Nineteen Eighty-Four by Audio Obscura is released on June 8 2019 by Bibliotapes.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Further.